Why it's still IT jobs for the boys, fashion for the girls

Schools fail to halt gender stereotyping over career choices

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The Independent Online

Gender stereotyping is still rife when it comes to boys' and girls' career aspirations, research shows. Millions of pounds may have been pumped into initiatives to try to persuade more girls to opt for science and engineering, and to persuade boys to read more or take up dancing, but a report today says that, when it comes to the crunch, both boys and girls opt for traditional career paths.

The survey of 500 14 to 16-year-olds studying for their GCSEs reveals that, when asked about their career aspirations, girls listed healthcare (22 per cent), education (11 per cent) and fashion (10 per cent) as their three favourite options. When it came to boys, a career in IT was top (16 per cent) followed by engineering (12 per cent) and healthcare (10 per cent).

Again, when asked about their ultimate aim, 26 per cent of boys and 20 per cent of girls said they expected to be the boss of their own company. Maybe, though, on this point, their parents were more realistic about their goals, with only 12 per cent believing their offspring would become bosses.

The survey coincides with the day that 650,000 teenagers received their GCSE results. Louise Robinson, president of the Girls' School Association and headteacher of Merchant Taylors' Girls' School in Crosby, Merseyside, said she was not surprised by the findings.

"Unfortunately, co-educational schools don't do enough to raise the career aspirations of girls and don't do enough to encourage them to think in terms of pursuing non-stereotypical jobs," she said.

Her thoughts are echoed by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. In a report on girls' career aspirations, the watchdog says: "Almost all the girls and young women who took part in the survey were open to the possibility of pursuing a career that challenged gender stereotypes, if the career interested them sufficiently. Their awareness of this potential, however, did not always translate into practice."

Eleven out of 12 mixed schools visited "were not doing enough to promote the confidence, drive and ambition of girls and young women to take risks in challenging vocational stereotypes", it added. "While the 13 all-girl schools said that confidence and competitive attitudes were easier to promote in the absence of boys, it was still the case that the proportion of girls' entries for individual GCSEs and A-level subjects in these schools broadly matched the national profile of examination entries by girls."

Mrs Robinson added: "Girls, also, cannot get over the images they see of themselves on TV."

The girls' relative lack of ambition, revealed in the survey carried out for JP Morgan Asset Management by Opinion Research, comes at a time when they are outperforming boys at almost every level of the examination system –except, for the first time last week at A* grade in A-level exams.

As a result, the focus has been turned on the poorer performance of boys, with the emphasis on trying to promote "boy-friendly" books, i.e. non-fiction or adventure stories, to persuade them to read more for pleasure. Experts predict any improvement in the GCSE pass rate this year is likely to be down to initiatives such as this. It appears that both sexes, though, are still keen to go to university, despite fees rising to up to £9,000 a year from September: 78 per cent thought they would attend university, although most seemed to underestimate the cost of doing so. They forecast it would cost them between £10,000 and £15,000 a year when figures show the average for fees and living costs is £17,352.

They were optimistic, too, about their future earnings, with most expecting a starting salary of £22,600, and that they would be owning their own house at the age of 25. At present, the average age of the first-time housebuyer is 30.

Case studies...

"Banking is dominated by males – I'll just have to be confident"

Elena Attfield, 16, Burton Latimer, Northants Year 11, predicted A*s, As and Bs

Bishop Stopford School

I would like to go to university, to do an economics degree, and my dream career would be in banking and finance. It seems like an exciting job. It's a very male-dominated industry and it seems most people who go into it are privately educated, which is a turn-off, but I think I'll just have to be confident and push through.

"Some girls who do well in science seem unwilling to carry on"

Frederik Colpman, 15, Goodworth Clatford, Hampshire Year 10, predicted As, Bs and Cs

Test Valley School

I would like to end up doing something in history – perhaps be a university lecturer. There's no gender divide at school in terms of what girls and boys are good at, but some girls who do well in science seem unwilling to carry on, even though they're very good at it.

"I decided I wanted to do something where I could give back to society"

Hannah Knowles, 16, Dudley, West Midlands Year 11, predicted A*s, As and Bs

Crestwood School

I will be enrolling on a health- and social-care BTEC. I did a test which asks you questions and then suggests which career would suit you. My answers suggested social work, so I decided I wanted to do something where I could give back to society.